Until 5 years ago I commuted to the West Loop from uptown. To get from Southport to Elston i'd take that little street through Finkl steel which they'd allow bikers to use. At least I never had any problems.
It was quite a dramatic quick ride. Sometimes while riding through you could see what I assume was molten steel in the blast furnaces (or whatever those huge caldrons are called). There were massive buckets filled with burning liquid. At other times I would come head on with this massive truck like contraption that was right out of a James Bond movie. I assume that was used to move the finished steel.
I believe that Finkl had the last working steel furnaces in a major American City. Finkl made the decision to move out of the City a few years ago to a cheaper south side location. I know the staff stayed on for about a year because I met one of them in a bar and he said only a few office folks were left (I think this was last May).
Anyway I made one of my now infrequent trips through the plant yesterday but discovered they have fenced off the exit on Cortland. So you have to take the official route on Southport to Cortland. On the East side of the complex I passed several cranes with their wrecking balls. How said..the demolition has begun.
If any of you are interested, get a photo before it goes away. It really is a fascinating part of Chicago's industrial past where so many unskilled laborers were able to earn good wages.
Regrettably I was staring so intently at the demolition work that my front tire fell into the rail track groove and I fell off the bike sans helmet. I believe this railroad track belonged to the line that carried the steel out of the plant (or iron ore in?). I also know until maybe 5-10 years ago there was a train that delivered candy manufacturing supplies to a plant in Lincoln Park so I wonder if this was the same line.
I bike all winter with no problems and fall on a dry surface! Today I have a very sore shoulder and rib but seem to be okay other than that. I was going pretty slow. I have stopped wearing my helmet for shorter jaunts but will now make sure I wear it.
I'm curious if others took this shortcut and enjoyed it as much as I did.
I remember the "shortcut" when it was Southport Ave before Finkl bought/conned it from the city. Finkl was a forging foundry and produced very high end big forgings - premium $$. The rail line was a short line which serviced the industries along Kingsbury St to Goose Island. My company used to manufacture on Kingsbuty I and I remember we got some materials in rail cars. It still operates to Goose Island occasionally to deliver lumber to the lumber company there (reason for the rail tracks on the Cherry St bridge). BTW Kingsbury was a dirt street until the late 70's /early 80's. Very bike unfriendly.
Thanks Len..that's fascinating. Was wondering about these rail links that ran through LP and I can't find much on the Web about it. As I recall ten years ago or so I was looking at a place in LP and the real estate agent said that every Tues/Wed (forget which( there was some little train that had a right of way to come through parts of LP.
When did Fink buy the right of way on Southport?
Finkl bought southport about 20 yrs ago.
If your interested in the rail line below is a link to various pics of it:
It did extend north up through Lincoln Park to Wrigleyville.
That line ran all the way to Evanston and was used by the Northwestern Elevated to expand north from Wilson. http://www.chicago-l.org/operations/freight/index.html
If you look at Google Maps from Addison south you can see how new construction fills in the rail line.
I didn't know it was closed, I took that short cut with some regularity. I did make a point of going exceedingly slow though because, well it's a steel factory, once I passed a block of metal and that was so hot I felt if from 15 feet. It was one of those little bits of oddness with all the clanging steel and big machines that was a nice bit of city oddness.
Yes, they have fenced the courland end very well and I couldn't see a way out. The North end says closed or something but easy to get through and I don't think they have tried to seal it yet. The demolition work is on the other (east) side of the complex. I probably road through it a month ago so it must have been sealed since then.
Yes, I'll miss it. I've used it many times over the years.
Hopefully when it reopens it will be a pedestrian/ bicycle friendly street, this is assuming it becomes residential. (Link to DNA Article.)
To the OP, Southport in the Finkl area was the site of my own tire falling into the rail groove as well, several years ago. I've been more careful since. :)
It will be missed greatly. Late night and winter rides have had routes plotted specifically to go through the complex, and sometimes the steelworkers would invite you over by an open door to warm up and look inside. Other times massive ingots were set outside to cool, and you could feel the heat radiating from them 8 feet away as you rode past.
They were also a good neighbor, decorating their facilities with window box planters in the summer and evergreens and lights in the winter. It was always fun to bring people through to see the " I had no idea this was here" look, particularly if that strange contraption was trundling along between the buildings.
Very high end, specialty steel production was done there, and being able to see what came out of those huge, mysterious buildings made it more real. These things were at least ten feet long.
Thanks all for your input. Nice to know there are so many people that share an interest in our city's history. Much appreciative of those of you who set me straight on what exactly they made at the Finkl foundry. I knew it was finished steel products but wasn't sure about the inputs and how the process worked.
Len that link you provided connected me with more information about the "local train" also this very interesting architect of many local train stations (including Wilson Ave), Arthur Gerber.
Wow. I loved riding that tiny stretch of Southport so many times the past 25 years. Summer nights were the best.